The coming architect/engineer brain drain, or 'Curse of the Baby Boomers'

Architecture, engineering, and (presumably) construction firms will face difficulties with management succession, as tens of thousands of Baby Boomers leave the AEC industry. Who will fill the knowledge gap?

September 03, 2014 |
Rob Cassidy

Illustration: ratch0013 via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I got an interesting letter—yes, an actual letter, in an envelope, what a concept!—the other day from Ray Kogan, AIA, Principal of Kogan & Company, a management consulting firm in Arlington, Va. (Ray and his colleague, Cara Bobchek, will be conducting a half-day workshop at our BD+C "Under40 Leadership Summit" in NYC later this month—Sept 18 to be exact—teasing out the role of "scenario planning" as a key component of strategic planning for AEC firms.)

Back to Ray's letter. "The demographics are compelling and irrefutable," it stated. Baby Boomers constitute a huge proportion of professionals in design firms. Extrapolating from U.S. Census data, Ray estimated that one-third—33%—of employees at A/E firms are older than 55. That's a good estimate, considering that the AIA says that 44% of all U.S. architects are older than 50.

Here's the unnerving part (again, using U.S. Census data as the base): "In the next 15 years, the number of architects and engineers aged 55-64 will increase by 47%, while the number of those aged 33-54 will decrease by 6%." Put all those numbers together, he surmises, and the country can look forward to an "exodus of tens of thousands of Boomer architects and engineers from the profession they have served for decades."

Kogan's conclusion: The exodus of the Boomers will lead to the loss of "an incalculable amount of valuable knowledge—technical, managerial, and institutional." The loss of thousands of Baby Boomers who currently form the core management base of their firms will be especially wrenching for the A/E sector. Somehow their knowledge and experience has to be captured for their firms to survive down the road.

The clock is ticking, says Kogan. "Capturing and institutionalizing the knowledge they've gained through the decades is a one-time opportunity—really an imperative—for our firms, our profession, and our industry."

Ray and I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Send them to: rcassidy@sgcmail.com.

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Robert Cassidy is Executive Editor of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

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